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Recession Alert: Patches the Horse Answers the Phone

A few blogs ago I stated in Statler & Waldorf, From the Balcony that my definition of UC is "any tool that helps an employee not answer the phone to encounter a customer." I want to elaborate further and of course I know that this doesn't apply to everyone.

What does apply to everyone is the ability to step up and learn survival in a downturn, and some key basic skills that no matter what your calling is in life- they will pay off later. Geeks have a tendency to communicate at a distance of safety and the real test is evident in all your communications skills rather than the computer tools.

So why answer the phone?

People love Caller-ID and they love knowing who's calling and answering "Hi Matt!" Sometimes though, and I'll admit to this- seeing the Caller-ID isn't always pleasant. That doesn't stop me from answering but it does put me into a "get ready, here it comes" type of mood. IM, chat, conferencing of various sorts, all provide likeable tools that are more than an arms-length-reach from the customer and with a larger safety zone. The phone is a personable tool and it brings you very close to the customer or caller and it can be a zone that people just don't want to step into. As positions are cut, more is always expected of those surviving the first round of cuts.

Some employees fear engaging customers and may assume it's the responsibility of sales. Either management doesn't get it or the employees don't want to get into this process. This is where a great deal of money and opportunity is lost. Personally, I love when I contact someone that wants to address my beef and when they honestly do, I appreciate more that they took the time and didn't blow me off, or route me to another tree in the auto attendant menu. When I do get help, I remember it and I am very likely to spend more money with the company that does help me. I do reward good behavior. But like many others, I treat bad behavior without repeat business or passing along referrals.

So then, there's forgiveness and of course I understand people make mistakes- we have our share including the many of my own. The overall customer experience counts from the mailroom all the way to the top guy. Consistency is what is lacking in many organizations small or large and the degree of forgiveness varies with your organizational consistency. This is what requires more than lip service from the CEO or CIO along with any other executive within an organization. It does require empowerment and that only comes from the top and it's often only selfishly awarded.

Many companies are gathering metrics on their phone calls as they do on their other forms of communications. This is becoming more common in the SMB/E space too. The data is instrumental in putting together the mysterious puzzle of "what happened" during that transaction. Recently, I was in a meeting with a customer about their call center. The President stated her customers were very unhappy because of the phone system. When we drilled down to the call center statistics and got into call records for the past couple of months, we discovered that it wasn't the customers that were unhappy, it was the President who was unhappy. She doesn't like waiting to talk to any employee, whether or not they are logged in doing their jobs. Her cell phone was logged numerous times and her wait to abandon was less than 20 seconds. Overall, there were just a "handful" of occasions when the company was suffering from an external failure impacting their services to their customers that caused a few callers to queue too long. Her perception is what led her to conclude the customers were unhappy with the telephone system.

Phone calls are often revealing and reflect the quality of products and services offered. They pinpoint problems from delivery all the way to defects. Management is responsible here and to minimize these types of calls isn't rocket science. The same is true for related web technologies- if the website doesn't address the question or need, people will call. Again, employees aren't responsible for the initial dissatisfaction but they tend to resist the old fashioned thing that everyone wants to run on the server which doesn't put the telephone call any further or closer to the customer. That distance remains the same and there's no amount of technology that can leverage all the required human interactions to satisfy customer needs. So instead of over vesting in technology, spend more on the people assets.

Management is often the hindering force when it fails to empower employees to "act" when answering and handling callers. In the meantime, many employees need a healthy communications environment, encouragement and training for the impact they do and can make on customers, along with fair consideration for doing a great job- not just when they fail to meet expectations, reasonable or not. A ringing phone in "our day" was an immediacy that was met with an immediate action. Maybe it's generational but I know I'm right that the dollars or opportunities are there for most calls. So, I'm at the end of my 'tail" and maybe I still haven't convinced you why you should answer the phone. but if Patches the horse can, then so should you.